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Building Local Government Support for Good Food

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Mark Winne, nationally recognized expert on food policy councils, explains how to effectively work with local governments. Also: an inspiring example of a successful local food policy council in Montana.

July 15, 2010: Building Local Government Support for Good Food


Local governments can be powerful partners for changing the food system. As the Good Food and local food movements continue to gain momentum and visibility, local officials are becoming more interested in how these initiatives can help their communities.  Mark Winne, author of “Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty” and top national expert on Food Policy Councils has a wealth of experience to share about local policy work as a tool for food system change.

What are the best ways to approach local officials and build partnerships with them over time?  What types of strategies are most effective for Food Policy Councils and local food policy initiatives? What kind of impacts can they have on the food system and the community?

Mark will gives you a crash course on how to be most effective in your efforts, and Paul Hubbard shares successes and lessons learned from the Community Food & Agriculture Coalition in Missoula, MT. Don’t reinvent the wheel! Learn from the successes of others.

Archived Video



All slides from presentation (.pdf)


Other Resources


Presenter Bios

Mark Winne

From 1979 to 2003, Mark Winne was the Executive Director of the Hartford Food System, a private non-profit agency that works on food and hunger issues in Connecticut.  He is the co-founder of the Community Food Security Coalition where he now works as the Food Policy Council Project Director. As a writer on food issues, Mark’s work has appeared in the Washington Post, The Nation, Sierra magazine, Orion magazine, and Yes! magazine, to name a few. His first book Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty was released in 2008. Mark’s second book Food Rebels, Guerrilla Gardeners, and Smart Cookin’ Mamas is scheduled for release in October 2010. Both books are published by Beacon Press. In addition to writing, Mark speaks to groups across the world on topics related to community food systems, food policy, and food security, and was recently appointed to the position of Visiting Scholar at the John Hopkins School of Public Health. He also serves on the boards of several non-profit organizations in his home state of New Mexico as well as in other parts of the country.

Paul Hubbard

Paul Hubbard is the Land Use Program Coordinator for the Community Food & Agriculture Coalition (CFAC) in Missoula, Montana.  Paul’s primary responsibilities are to coordinate the work of CFAC's Land Use and Agricultural Viability Committee.  Aspects of the job have included designing and managing Land Link Montana, a program to assist beginning farmers and ranchers; working with the Missoula City Council to draft and secure an ordinance that allows residents to keep up to six chicken hens; coordinating CFAC members in participating in land-use decisions and policies that effect working farm and ranchlands.  Hubbard received a Masters of Science in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana in 2006, where he researched farm/ranch transitions, land use planning and farmland preservation, economic development strategies to bolster agricultural viability, and the University of Montana's Farm to College Program.


Questions, Answers and Comments

Participant Comment: Washington State now has a Food Policy Forum, to be staffed by state agency folks. Governor Gregoire signed it into reality two weeks ago. Additionally, the Puget Sound Regional Council is forming a Regional FPC for the four-county region, taking the place of the Seattle-King County Acting Food Policy Council. Two good examples of new state/regional activities.

Participant Comment: Just want to make a plug for Farm Aid's new report: Rebuilding America's Economy with Family Farm-Centered Food Systems.  Very relevant to this discussion and a great tool for enhancing your own advocacy and programming work.  You can access the report at --Alicia Harvie, Farm Aid

Q: I'm wondering how you deal with turf issues, especially with such a diverse array of interests at the policy table (we don't all have enlightened Extension agents, alas!).  How do you forge a common language and vision/values?

A: This is an important question. I think the best way to approach the challenge is undertake some strategic planning during the early state of food policy work. You need to establish common visions, goals, and language, i.e. what does food security or sustainability mean and can we agree on working definitions for our purposes.

Q: I would like to know about how city level, regional levels, state level food policy councils can interact and support each other.

A: Since we are just now seeing states that have local and state FPCs as well as some regional councils within their borders. As a result, we are just now seeing the opportunity to support each other. Keep in mind that different jurisdictions have different issues and governmental functions. There are things you can do at the local level you can't do at the state level, and vice versa. But clearly there are opportunities to for FPCs to work across jurisdictional levels.

Participant Comment: As I was looking over the slides, it occurs to me to ask whether you, or the presenters, know of or have ever worked with the Resource Conservation and Development Councils around the country? Kind of a government/private partnership, RC&D Councils are staffed by NRCS of USDA but the Council members are from throughout the area being served. Although the staff are Government employees, their work is driven by the Council members and the projects that are brought forward by community members.

It is an opportunity for grassroots projects to gain traction and assistance which might include small grants, partnerships in creating projects, excellent opportunities to network with persons interested in natural resource concerns and more.

I am the chair of a RC&D Council here in Maine and in our 5 year plan, and annual plan as well, we have made local food and the food system a priority of concern.

Steve Hoad,

Q: Has Mark worked with Tribes in the US and would he be willing to provide tech assistance or answer email/phone calls from Tribes?

A: I have done limited work with tribal governments. I'm getting a few requests to assist with the established of tribal FPCs and expect to be providing considerably more assistance in the near future.

Q: As Grand Rapids, MI was mentioned, which school is she referring to?

A: The NGFN is working with Grand Rapids Public Schools and Michigan State University through Sysco Grand Rapids.

Q: Do FPC's tend to have steering committees or a core group of advisors?  Our budding FPC is Santa Barbara County has 20-30 ongoing participants, making decision making difficult.  It is not an official city sanctioned FPC...maybe we should consider moving in this direction to limit the size of the group to make the process and approach more manageable?  Then perhaps bring in the public later?

A: [You may want to reference this document on the CFSC website:  How Food Policy Councils Operate and Are Organized  -editor]

Q: Mark or Paul, Are you aware of any legal analysis of the different federal food procurement rules and regs and how to ensure that schools that want to include a geographic preference can move forward in a legally sound manner?

A: Yes. The questioner should contact Marion Kalb, CFSC F2S Program Director. I believe there were a few analyses done around the time of the last farm bill when CFSC was working to get geographic preference included (done successfully).

Q: I'm curious on how to recruit and educate residents (just regular eaters) to take part in Food Policy Councils.  It seems like most FPCs only include local food system experts.

A: This isn’t an easy or quick thing to do. The best approach is to include residents in community food assessment activities like surveying, community meetings, and focus groups. In this way their input is heard and they learn about local food systems and even policy in a participatory manner. Also, FPC meetings can move around to different locations to make them more convenient to different groups of people. They can also be held in evenings so that working people can attend.

Q: I applaud the speaker’s attention to farmland and farmland conservation as part of the role of food policy councils. Outside of Missoula, to what extent have FPCs included farmland and land use issues generally in their agendas?

A: Both farmland and land use, e.g. urban gardens, have been a major focus of FPCs. In Connecticut the State FPC made farmland loss its first major policy issue in the late 1990s. It sponsored a day-long conference on the subject which led a massive public education and lobbying campaign, and eventually resulted in passing some significant legislation. In terms of urban land use, Cleveland passed a series of zoning changes that protect and enhance city land being used for gardening and farming.

Q: Community wellness efforts and natural health practitioners would seem to be especially valuable supporters of local and healthy food development.  Do you know of any specific locations where such elements have been used and found helpful.

A: I can’t cite specific examples, however, wellness in the form of healthy eating and local food have been priority items for most food policy councils. Local food advocates, dietitians, health practitioners, and nutrition educators are often members of FPCs.

Q: Has there been much response from economic development authorities at the local level to the FPCs?

A: Much of the work of the Michigan FPC has been focused on agriculture and economic development. Public procurement, while an indirect form of economic development has been a major focus of many FPCs (see Cleveland recently changed procurement regulations). A couple of counties in Iowa have anted up some funding for the Leopold Center to do work on ag and food econ. dev. in those respective counties.  Many FPCs are attempting to account for their local food economy, but haven’t necessarily integrated into their policy work yet.

Answered Verbally During the Presentation

Q: Is there an agricultural strategic plan for Missoula? Are you working with land trusts?

A: [Yes. Listen to the video for more details]

Q: How many persons do you recommend serve on a Food Policy Council? How many is too many?

A: [No fewer than 13 and no more than 21. Listen to the video for more details.]

Q: What are the costs required for organizing and implementing a Food Policy Council.  We are working on passing a resolution through the county (Grant County, New Mexico) and our commissioners want to know how an FPC will impact them financially. 

A: [About $50,000, including a 1/2-time professional. Listen to the video for more details.]

Q: Mark W - are there examples of health care professionals/leaders being at table (local/regional/state) re: Food Policy Planning?

A: [Yes – health care professionals are critical. Listen to the video for more details.]   

Q: How do you assess community needs for a food policy councils?
Q: Mark: What sources to you suggest as a community gets started with research on existing food systems to determine what a community's assets are?

A: [The CFSC site has many resources and tools related to Food Policy Council at Listen to the video for more details.]

Q: for Mark: Planners and planning departments seem crucial to FPC work, how can FPCs better reach out to planners and get their participation

A: [Planners are willing to come to the table – just ask! Listen to the video for more details.]

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